EVENT TRANSCRIPT: The Two-State Solution: Is it still viable? Was it ever?
DATE: 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm, 11 March
VENUE: Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, Westminster, SW1P 4RS United Kingdom
SPEAKER: Professor Asher Susser
EVENT CHAIR: Ellie Green
Ellie Green: Great. Hello, everybody and good afternoon. So today we’re here to discuss “The Two-State Solution: Is it still viable? Was it ever?” I think that this question obviously has been (inaudible) since 1948, but particularly so in the recent times due to both the upcoming Israeli elections happening on the April 9th, and also with the imminent, well, the imminent hope that we have surrounding Jared Kushner’s Middle East Peace Plan. So today, I’d like to introduce you to Professor Asher Susser, who is the professor emeritus of the Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University. He was the director of the Moshe-Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at TAU, for 12 years and taught for 35 years at TAU Department of Middle Eastern History. He’s been a Full-Bright fellow, a visiting professor at Cornell University, the University of Chicago, Brandeis University, and the Stein Family Professor of Modern Israel Studies at the University of Arizona. So, I’d like you to all welcome Professor Asher Susser.
Asher Susser: Thank you very much and my apologies for being late. I wasn’t sure if you were still in the European Union, so I took the wrong turn. So, my apologies. I’ll try not to speak for more than half an hour so that we will have a time for Q and A. So was the two state solution ever possible? Is it still possible? The first thing I would say is that there are very good reasons, very good reasons, why we have not arrived at a settlement with the Palestinians. We have managed to do that with Egypt. Made a peace treaty which has lasted for longer than forty years. We have not fought any wars with an Arab state since 1973, so for the last 46 years we have not fought against any Arab states, and made peace with two of them. Egypt and Jordan. So what’s the deal with the Palestinians? Why is it so different? The two state solution in theory, for a long period of time, was acceptable to both sides. The problem is, the two state solution is not an ideal solution for either side. The Israelis and the Palestinians in their heart to hearts would rather have it all and for both of them the two state solution is some kind of unsavoury compromise which you have to make for the lack of any better choice but the unsavoury compromise has not been attainable. Why have the negotiations failed? So what I want to explain is why the negotiation has failed with the Palestinians what is the difference with them in comparison to the Arab states. And then if the two state solution and the negotiated two state solution is not possible. What should we do? We can sit back and mourn about it, or we can let the status quo gravitate to whatever happens, or we can think about something different. First of all, why did the negotiations fail? The narratives between the Israelis and the Palestinians are not just slightly different. The Israelis and the Palestinians come to the table with historical narratives that are diametrically opposed. They have nothing in common. They are unbridgeable. As they are presently believed and taught on both sides. For the Israelis and the Jewish people, I would say, generally speaking, Israel is the epitome of historical justice. Justice for the downtrodden problem of the universe. When we say in Hebrew, mishoah let-kumah. From Holocaust to redemption. That rapid transition from 1945, when we were the downtrodden of the earth, to this great victory, self-determination, redemption of the 1948. And for us it really was a grand act of historical justice, conferred upon us with the legitimacy of the United Nations, who saw the Jews after the Second World War as deserving of a statehood and sovereignty, a home in a historical Palestine, a historical Eretz Israel for the Jewish people. But for the Palestinians, it’s not just something slightly different. It is the epitome of injustice. This is not about victory and state. It’s about defeat and refugeedom and a loss of homeland. What the Israelis see and the Jewish people see as a grand heroic act of self-defence against the awful plight of Jews, the Palestinians see as a huge act of aggression, imposed upon them for the sins of others. They will say “True, the Jews suffered terribly in Europe, and the Germans, and the Ukrainians, and the Poles and you let it go, the whole lot of them. They treated the Jews awfully! And why should the Palestinians have to pay for it? What does it have to do with us? Why is this historical compensation with the Jewish people at our expense? So both sides come to the table with the huge chip on their shoulder and with a great sense of historical justice on the one hand, and historical injustice on the other. What makes Palestinians Palestinian? It’s not ethnic. The Palestinians ethnically are not different to Syrians or to Jordanians. For the great majority, they are Sunni Muslim Arabs and culturally, linguistically have much in common with other Arabs who are Arabs just as they are. So what makes them Palestinian? What is this Palestinian-ness? Palestinian-ness is not about an ethnic difference; it is about a unique historic difference. Palestinian-ness is in the mind. It is a historical consciousness. It is this association with the defeat of the 1948. The tragedy of 1948 as they see it. The Nakba as they call it. That is what makes Palestinians Palestinian. If it is what makes Palestinians Palestinian. This sense of the historical defeat at the hands of the Jews. How do they come to terms with Israel? Which in their mind is this very historical injustice, which has inflicted all of this upon them. It’s a tall order. When we in Israel celebrate our independence day, Israelis and I think Jews worldwide, celebrate independence and the sovereignty and the Jewish state, there’s a lot to celebrate. The Arabs in Israel, the citizens of Israel, have a slogan. In Arabic they say, ya-om mistirarikum, ya-om nakbatina. Your day of independence is our day of disaster. That I think these narratives that the parties bring to the table, are at the moment, impossible to bridge. And there at the background, of this repeatedly failed negotiation process, why have we succeeded with the Arab states? With the Arab states, what we have to resolve, are the problems resulting from the war of 1967, the Six-day War. Israel occupied territory from Egypt, gave Egypt its territory back, and they were willing to make peace, provided we give back all of it, which we did. And we made peace. We nearly arrived at an agreement with Syria on the same basis. Where Israel was willing to give up the Golan. And details in that negotiations were not finally worked out, both on the borderline and the security arrangements, and those negotiations failed. Peace for Jordan was also success, but on the Palestinian question, it’s not just the question of 1967 we have to resolve. For the Palestinians, there are two sets of issues. What we can call the 1967 file and the 1948 file. And the 1948 file is the reason why the negotiations fail, not the 1967 file. The 1967 file, of which we have even over that we haven’t agreed yet, settlements, and borders, and how you divide Jerusalem, which are all 1967 issues, the 1948 issues are not about occupation. The 1948 questions are about Israel, about the foundation of Israel in the first place. And the key question there, is the 1948 Palestinian refugee question. We say “Two states? Fine, then the Palestinian refugees should return to the state of Palestine.” But the Palestinians say “But the refugees never came from the state of Palestine. The refugees came from what is not state of Israel. And if refugees return, they must return to the state of Israel.” And the Israelis say “that is counter-productive and contradictory to our construction of what the two state is all about!” If there are to be two states, one for the Jews and one for the Palestinians, why don’t the Palestinians return to their state not to Israel? So in the Israeli mind, this contradicts the very basic logic of the two state idea. Whereas the Palestinians feel that if there is no resolution for the 1948 grievances, it can’t be an end of the conflict. And the Israelis always say “we want to know that the two state solution is the end of the conflict. It ends. We don’t want to have more claims made on Israel after it’s given up the West Bank, and Gaza, and half of Jerusalem.” And the Palestinians say “the end of the conflict? But the conflict never began in the 1967. So how come we end the conflict just on the ’67 basis. For us the conflict began long before 1948, but the root grievance we have is 1948. So we cannot resolve the 1948 file based on the negotiation just on the 1967 question. So there is a built-in conundrum here that is insoluble. That’s why we’re hammering away at the Oslo accord for 25 years and we never finish. Because we always come up against exactly the same insurmountable problem. In the year 2000, there were perhaps the most serious round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO. Prime minister Ehud Barak of Israel, Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the PLO, with whom Israel signed the Oslo accords. And the Israelis went into Camp David in 2000, and in the auspices of President Clinton, so you have these intensive negotiations for two weeks under the auspices of President Clinton, this is to make the historical breakthrough. And the Israelis go to Camp David with a vision. You have these two sets of issues 1948 and 1967, so Israelis say we have a trade-off. We will concede on the 1967 file, and we will give up most of the West Bank, we will negotiate the division of Jerusalem, but we won’t, in exchange, for concessions of such magnitude on the 1967 file, we want you the Palestinians, to close the 1948 file. No 1948 questions. 1967, in exchange, for 1948. And the Palestinians say “excuse me? No, we can’t do that.” The Israelis and the Palestinians come to the negotiating table from different historical time-zones. The Israelis come to the negotiating table and want to talk about the occupation. They want to talk about the problems of 1967. The Palestinians come to the negotiating table and they want to talk about 1948. The Israelis are not about to negotiate the creation of Israel. The Israelis will negotiate the extent of Israel, the size of Israel, they will negotiate. But they won’t negotiate Israel’s creation. That’s not negotiable. So we have in the negotiation, we say to them, Barak says to Arafat, “We’re willing to give up 95% of the West Bank.” And the Palestinians say “95% is not good enough. We want 100%.” But Israelis look at this and say “You know, these people are really inflexible. They come to the table with an all-or-nothing approach.” And the Palestinians say “You know, these Israelis are really impossible. They already have 78% of the historical Palestine. Israel in the ’67 boundaries, 78% of the historical Palestine. The West Bank and Gaza, is 22%.” So the Palestinians say “We are not negotiating over the 22% that are left. And on that you want us to compromise? Well, we won’t. We want all of the 22%. Plus, we want some formal form of recognition, of the right of the Palestinian refugees to return. So it’s all of the West Bank, and Gaza, and half of Jerusalem, and some element of compensation also in the sins of return to the state of Israel of an unspecified number of Palestinian refugees and it’s not clear what that number is and what the Palestinians say is “first you recognise the right of return, and then we’ll talk about the numbers” and the Israelis would say “well, we’re not prepared to recognise the right of return because we don’t know what numbers you are talking about” and there was never any agreement when numbers are mentioned and there was never any agreement remotely on the numbers and if the numbers would ever divulge as they were once or twice, the Palestinians would deny that they have made any offer on the numbers and he’s leaving open the question to from zero to 5 or 6 million, which from Israeli point of view, is a non-starter. Okay, so if we cannot negotiate a two state solution. Because of all these issues, what do we do? Why withdraw? If this is not to follow? Israel withdrew from Gaza unilaterally and the rockets came after us. So the Israelis say “Gaza was a big mistake. And this should not be repeated in the West Bank which is much more dangerous for Israel than Gaza. The mountainous area of the West Bank sits upon the bulk of the state of Israel. The coastal plain of Israel sits under the West Bank, and that is where the beating heart of Israel is. All our mines, all our industry, two-thirds of the population, the coastal plain is the beating heart of Israel, sitting under the West Bank, waiting for some kind of Gaza like situation is not exactly something that Israelis will contemplate without some measure of concern. Okay, so no withdrawal. So leave things as they are. Leaving things as they are is gravitating towards not a two-state solution, but a one-state reality. One state. More or less as things look now, one state. Are six and a half million Palestinians and six and a half million Israeli Jews, and to live together in this one-state happily after, I mean I think you have to be coming from Mars, to think that that is possible. What the Czechs and Slovaks couldn’t do and split up into Czech Republic and Slovakia, what the Yugoslavs couldn’t do and split up into their states now, into Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia, and etc, etc. Spain and Catalonia, and even you guys can’t get your act together. The Scots, and the Welsh, and the devolution, and you’ve left the European Union. You know, nationalism is all alive and kicking. And we and the Palestinians are going to sit together happily ever after in this wonderful peaceful state, after 120 years of a warfare. Not likely. So okay, one-state, not so good. How about a confederation? Sounds great. How do you make a confederation? What is a confederation? In confederation, there will be two autonomous units, Israel and Palestine and they will have joint confederate institutions. Like Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Exchequer, that’s how confederations work. So can you imagine our guys from the Mossad sitting together with a Hamas people to arrange a joint security agency for the confederation? Again, you have to come from somewhere, you know, out of the space to think that this is even remotely possible. If we could have the kind of mutual trust, to create a confederation, we would have established two states peacefully 10 years ago. Even more. And what is the situation on the ground? People will say “You know, settlements, what are you going to do now?” So, where are the settlements and how many of them are there? There are 127 settlements in the West Bank, which have over 400,000 people in them. There are two kinds of settlements basically. There are those that are in the major settlement blocks, and these major settlement blocks, I think there are three of them, compose less than 7 or 8 percent of the West Bank. And they include three quarters of the settlers. 75 to the 80 percent of the settlers, are concentrated in three blocks and they are all close to the Israeli boundary, could all be included in Israel, without annexing great parts of the West Bank. And what some people have suggested Israel would annex few percent of the West Bank in order to include these blocks of settlement, and the Palestinians would get from Israel’s old territory, two percent, in exchange. A land-swap as they call it. That was never agreed upon but that was the idea. Then there are, out of 400 something thousand settlers, there are 100,000 that are outside these blocks. In 49 little settlements. The problem is, with these settlements that are outside the blocks, very large measure, there are on privately owned Arab land, there are legal issues, with the land appropriation, 93 percent of the population in this area of the West Bank are Arabs, the Jews are a tiny minority, and these small settlements are also very heavily dependent, not only on government protection, but on government financial support. They are small and hardly economically sustainable, and many of them get more than sixty percent of their entire income from government sources. So then, looking at this, there are two unilateral approaches. There are unilateralists of the right and the unilateralists of the left. The unilateralists of the right say “You know peace is too far. We can’t negotiate with these people. We can’t have agreement with these people. Let’s annex all of the settlements.” Which is annexing about sixty percent of the West Bank. With somewhere around 100,000 Arabs who are in these areas where these sixty settlements exist. The problem is that the Swiss cheese kind of arrangement that could emerge here, the settlements that are dotted all over the West Bank, and it’s not easy at all. In fact, it is very very difficult to include them in the West Bank and in Israel and leave the West Bank as a continuous territory it’s impossible. Moreover, if you annex sixty percent of the West Bank, you are annexing sixty percent of the twenty-two percent that were left over, sixty of twenty-two percent is nine or ten percent. So Israel, the Jews are going to take the ninety percent of the historical Palestine, and leave ten percent for the Arabs? I doubt that will pass. It certainly won’t pass with the Palestinians. That’s for sure, but I don’t think it will pass with much of the international community. And then you have the idea of the unilateralist left, who say over period of time, seven, eight, nine, ten years, gradually roll back the occupation outside the blocks of the settlement. That is the blocks should be left in Israel, even the left in Israel agrees that that is possible to (inaudible) dismantle, even if they wish to, there are the three quarters of the settlers, as I said, about 300,000 and more who would be included in Israel but that would only require the control of the small percentage of the West Bank. And then these isolated settlements dotted around the rest of the West Bank that have about 100,000 people in them, should gradually be withdrawn over time, as I say, five, seven, eight, nine, ten years. That is people in Israel are very critical of the withdrawal from Gaza because they say “We withdrew from Gaza and what did we get from it? The rockets.” I don’t know if any Israelis, thinking Israelis, right or left, who say “You know, Gaza wasn’t a good idea. Let’s go back to Gaza.” I don’t know anybody who suggest that we go back there. Why did Ariel Sharon the prime minister of Israel who decided on the withdrawal from Gaza, I’m sure you all know in this room that Ariel Sharon was not exactly a rabid left winger. Ariel Sharon withdrew from Gaza not because he thought that peace would follow. He knew it wouldn’t. Anybody with eyes on his head would have known that. Sharon withdrew from Gaza, not to have Israel controlling two million Palestinians. That was the reason. We distinguish in Israel between two kinds of security. We say bitahon yasudit bitahon shotech. Current security and basic security. Current security is the protection of Israel on a day-to-day basis, policing the borders, keeping the terrorists out, keeping Israelis safe. That’s current security. Basic security is the preservation of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. It’s the long-term historical raison d’etre. It’s the great idea. Sharon withdrew from Gaza not for current security reasons, but for basic security reasons. Preserving Israel in the long run as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and you cannot do that with millions of Palestinians under your control, who are half or more of the population. As the (inaudible) present, in historical Palestine, that is Gaza, Israel, West Bank, the numbers are 50-50. Six and a half million Israeli Jews, six and a half million Palestinians. So learning from the Gaza experience, they say “you shouldn’t do this overnight, but over a long term process. Hopefully coming to some kind of understanding with the settlers that great majority of them remain but the hundred thousand isolated settlements should be convinced hopefully, peacefully, to go live somewhere else and with compensation. And there should be an eye to Gaza. Gaza is a humanitarian disaster. For our own good, we cannot let this continue. It is already beginning to explode in Israel’s face and it will only get worse. If the humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate. It’s a question of massive unemployment. A huge shortage of drinkable water, Gaza is even worse than economic basket case. So there are ideas in Israel who say we should arrange for the development of Gaza and here the problem is how do Israelis look at Gaza. Is Gaza two million people in a humanitarian disaster? Or is Gaza six brigades of Hamas? Can you revive Gaza’s economy? Without bolstering Hamas? Should Israel cede to it that Gaza has more electricity so they can manufacture more rockets to fire on Israel? It’s a dilemma. And the idea is to come to some kind of understanding there with Hamas over armistice of sorts and then to arrange an international effort, a kind of Mini-Martial effort for Gaza, that would include three components; the building of a port, desalination plant, and a power station. All these three together would dramatically change the situation in Gaza and make it a lot more habitable. And then, if things are kept quiet, also to allow Gazans to work in Israel, which would radically change the economic situation. So to conclude, just to emphasise, what I would call Israel’s basic dilemma. On the one hand, you cannot just come up and say, “Let’s withdraw from the territories and there will be peace, and that would be the end of it.” That’s simply not true. But we cannot just remain there, and hope that things will work out because they probably won’t. And there are trends that are readily visible that are not in Israel’s favour. It’s not only the question of the numbers game. We, the Zionist idea was based on two grand principles. The first was to create a nation-state of the Jewish people, and the second was to become, as a Jewish state, a legitimate member of the family of the nations. If we continue the present situation, we are undermining the possibility of two states. In the long run, undermining the possibility of Israel’s long time survival as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and we are as we can see before our eyes without going too far, that the present situation is undermining Israel’s international legitimacy. Israel’s international legitimacy, rests on the acceptance of the partition of Palestine. We emerged on the basis of partition. Even Balfour Declaration doesn’t grant all of Palestine to the Jews. Neither did the partition resolution obviously of 1947, nor did the resolution 242 which was the basis of the peace process after 1967 war. So I will say that Israelis have to look at a way of maintaining two state dynamic. I don’t say two state solution. Solution is a big word, which I’m not sure we can achieve, but maintain the two state dynamic, to keep the two state idea alive, for Israel’s our long term well-being, that there be a Palestinian state sometime in the future, alongside the Jewish state. Not for the Israelis to do the Palestinians a favour, not for the international community to come and pat Israel on the back, but for Israel’s own self-interest. To maintain Israel in the long-run, as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and a legitimate member of the family of the nations. Thank you.
Ellie Green: Thank you so much, so we’re gonna take questions in threes. If you can say your name, organisation, and also keep your question relatively brief so can have enough time. I’ll go for the first three here.
Audience 1: Hi, Roger Waters, J-TV. Um, you enlightened me actually because when you talk about the 1948 file, it kind of stops my argument as to why when Jordan owned the land after 1948 until 1967, they didn’t create a Palestinian state at that time. It is easy to do. Now I realise that they don’t want that state at all, they want the whole of Israel because of the ’48 file you talk about is the reason why (inaudible) when it could have been.
Asher Susser: Should I answer each one?
Ellie Green: Um, no. We’re gonna do three in a row if that’s okay, sorry.
Audience 2: Lyn Julius, Harif, UK association of the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. You mention that the Palestinian refugee question was insoluble, but surely there is a solution staring in the face and that is the fact that two sets of refugees emerged from 1948. An enormous equal number of Jewish refugees went to what is now Israel. And surely this would actually help achieving reconciliation and peace.
Audience 3: Edward (inaudible) No affiliation. What is your view of UNRWA and do you think it should continue?
Asher Susser: Um, I’ll take it one at a time. I hope I remember all three. Jordan didn’t establish a Palestinian state after 1948 because it wasn’t interested in such a solution. Actually, that’s not true of Jordan. Jordan made peace with Israel. So it’s not the Jordanians really who are the guilty party here. In 1948 the whole issue of Palestinian-ness was hardly as mature as it is today. The idea of Palestinians establishing a state of their own wasn’t necessarily the centrepiece of the discourse. It was all about Arab unity those days and we’re all Arabs and we’re all united with Jordan. They weren’t speaking of the independent Palestine yet and Jordan had no interest in creation of a Palestinian state. That’s why Jordanians annexed West Bank. The Jordanian government abolished the use of the term Palestine by law. It was illegal in Jordan to use the term Palestine in Jordanian official documents. The Palestinian refugees and non-refugees alike in the West Bank and in Jordan all became Jordanian citizens. Jordan wanted to abolish Palestine. In fact, Jordan and Israel had the same interest of eradicating Palestine. Therefore, Jordan and Israel are the only states in the Middle East who gave their Palestinians citizenship. To de-Palestinize them. After 1967, Jordanian policy gradually changed. They desperately asked the Israelis after the ‘67 war to give them back the West Bank because they were afraid that the West Bank would eventually turn into a Palestinian source of opposition to Jordan as well. And the Israelis were not interested in giving back the West Bank. And the Israelis were very dismissive of the Jordanian desire to get the West Bank back. I think personally Israel made a mistake. Who did they, if the Israelis wouldn’t have, if it would have given the West Bank, what were the Israelis thinking? That if they all go back to Jordanians, suddenly Palestinian issue would disappear and the Dutch would come along and look after it, not likely. And if you don’t do something with the PLO, you will be dealing with Hamas down the road. It’s not gonna get better. It usually gets worse. What we could’ve done with Jordan would have been a lot better than anything we will see in the future, so that’s not only their fault but it has part to do with Israel, the arrogant attitude after 1967, that we can do as we please, we are the great victors the Arabs can do nothing to us, which was the breeding ground for the tragedy of 1973, the October War. That’s the answer to your question. As for the Jewish refugees from Arab states, believe me, we are fully aware of it. Fully aware of it. We are the last who wouldn’t know that half of our population (inaudible). But when we say to the Palestinians, “Okay, you’ve got your refugees but we’ve got our Jewish refugees.” The Palestinians say “What does that have to do with us? We’re Palestinians. The people who did this to you are Iraqis. You want to fix the Jewish refugee question? Talk to Saddam! ”
Audience 2: What about the mufti?
Asher Susser: I beg your pardon?
Audience 2: The Palestinian mufti.
Asher Susser: What about him?
Audience 2: Well, he incited the Farhud massacre in Iraq.
Asher Susser: First of all, that is only a slight fracture of the Farhud massacre, the reasons for it, and even if it is entirely true, what are the Palestinian in Palestine and in other, you know, the 12 million of them today have to do with the mufti having incited the Farhud massacre. And that’s, let’s say, the mufti is guilty and the Palestinians should solve the problem for the Iraqi refugees, and the Egyptian refugees also? And the Syrian refugees also? And the Yemenite people and the Moroccans, what are the Palestinians have to do with all of this? And they, it’s even more difficult than that. The Palestinians don’t admit the responsibility with the Palestinian refugee problem. What is a Nakba? Nakba is Arabic is a disaster. But Nakba is a disaster of the natural type, like an earthquake. So 1948 is this terrible earthquake that happened to the Palestinians but it didn’t just happen to the Palestinians. There was a war that they began with the Jews. And when in the negotiations, the Palestinians keep on saying, “You Israelis must admit your responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem.” And the Israelis refuse. Because they say “We were responsible for the Palestinian refugee problem. But so are you. And all of your friends from neighbouring Arab states. We share the responsibility for 1948.” That the Israelis would admit. But that we accept sole responsibility for this issue? And this is what leads to the impossible narrative, because if the Israelis are solely responsible, then the Israelis are the sole party to solve the problem. If you are entirely responsible, then you must be the only party to solve the problem. And the Israelis say “We’ll participate in the solution, but we are not solely responsible and therefore not accept the sole responsibility to solve the problem. As for UNRWA, practically, I mean, UNRWA only exists for the Palestinian refugees. There’s no similar organisation for other refugees. And I think, eh, you know, UNRWA is, you know, way passed the “sell-by” date. And I don’t think, honestly, I don’t think UNRWA should’ve existed in the first place, any more than refugee organisations for all the refugees, generally speaking. And I don’t think UNRWA should exist now. But if people want to dismantle UNRWA just overnight, that could cause practical problems on the ground that Israel itself doesn’t want to see. If UNRWA abandons all financial support, for schools and other institutions in Gaza, the people who are going to pay for this is Israel.
Audience 3: So is that why Israel is pushing UNRWA to stay?
Asher Susser: Exactly! Israel of all people…
Audience 3: So Israel is persuading the British government (inaudible).
Asher Susser: and was not happy at all with what Trump did. Because, okay, in principle, and historically, UNRWA shouldn’t be there. But since living on the ground is not just about historical responsibility, etc. You also have to think of the practical consequences. And the practical consequences of abolishing UNRWA just overnight are not good for Israel. It will also be very damaging to the Jordanian government, which will have to solve the refugee problem it has with Palestinian refugees with their own money which they don’t have, and the destabilisation of Jordan is dramatically opposed to Israel’s fundamental security.
Ellie Green: Next three, please, okay, um, can we have those three, starting with yourself, yes.
Audience 4: Professor Susser, history tells us that sooner or later, enemies have to engage in dialogue. We’ve seen that in South Africa, from the South African government speaking to Mandela, British government spoke to the IRA, (inaudible) Shin Fein. Is it time for the Israelis to talk to Hamas?
Asher Susser: Maybe I’ll take one at a time. Is that okay?
Ellie Green: Yes. No, no, that’s okay.
Asher Susser: Israelis are already talking to Hamas, if you wanna… it’s not (inaudible). But we can’t work with Gaza without talking to Hamas. And we keep on saying ourselves, “Hamas is the government of Gaza. We regularly say that we hold Hamas responsible for everything that is fired out of Gaza. So we see Hamas essentially as the government of Gaza. Not only do we see them as the government of Gaza, Israel actually want it to remain as government of Gaza. Because they are the only people in practice who can more or less keep control of the place and prevent it from exploding into something even worse than what it is presently. So I think you know it’s right that Israel should speak to the Palestinians, Israel should be fine to speak to Hamas, too. But just speaking doesn’t necessarily mean agreements. And we’ve been speaking to the Palestinians for the long time. It’s already formally 25 years now. And it hasn’t produced a new agreement. And the comparisons with Ireland and South Africa, I don’t want to go into any extensive way which I don’t have time for that, but neither of them are really applicable. The Irish and the British had disagreements with each other. But neither one of them sought the dissolution of the other. In South Africa, neither party sought the dissolution of the other either. The Black movement in South Africa never sought to keep the whites out. And the majority of the white people, those who imposed the apartheid, called themselves Afrikaners. And Mandela used to say that these people are Africans. We don’t want to keep them out. We want to live with them as equals. It’s a different ball game. It’s not the same kind of issue. And therefore, as much as Northern Ireland and South Africa are always the examples that people bring up and there is a lot in common, there’s not enough in common to say “Okay, these are the examples that we can follow.” It just isn’t working that way. What I’m saying is not to leave the Palestinian issue without any resolution. We have to deal with them. We have to try to make things better for them and for ourselves. But not that (inaudible) out of Ireland or South Africa. I wish we could but I don’t think so.
Audience 5: Two-state solution apply to India in 1947, which eventually became three-state solution (inaudible) and Bangladesh. Is Palestinian state comprising two (inaudible) state where Gazans are culturally different to people in the West Bank viable?
Asher Susser: It’s, again, a comparison. What is the distance between Bangladesh and Pakistan? 105,000 miles? Something like that. Do you know the distance from Gaza to West Bank? I think you can go from one side of London to the other. It’s 25 miles. 25 miles, 42 kilometres. If you remember the situation of Germany, East Germany, West Germany, Berlin, in its entirety, was in East Germany, but West Berlin belonged to West Germany. And there’s 150 kilometres between West Germany and West Berlin. And there was an autobahn that connected them. And they lived happily ever after. And they may have continued for another fifty years before the reunification surprised everybody when it came about. Gaza and the West Bank could be linked. It’s a technical issue. You can have a railway or highway, it’s not a problem. The problem is basically political. It’s not because of the difference between the Gazans and the West Bankers, which there are certain cultural differences, but not dramatically. It’s not as if it’s two entirely different populations. You know, god-forbid, you know, something like English and Scots. (inaudible) and Welsh and Irish, as we know. So Gazans and West Bankers are, believe me, as much the same people as the Welsh and Scotsmen are. Perhaps a lot more so. Probably a lot more so. So that’s not the issue. The issue here is arriving at a secure arrangement on the ground, that is politically bearable and will allow Israel to say “We don’t mind if Gazans and West Bankers travel from one side to the other all the time. It’s not a threat to our security.” At present, Israel won’t allow it. Because Israel will say “We are not going to allow Hamas to transfer rockets from Gaza to the West Bank and then fire it from (inaudible) to Tel Aviv. I mean, we won’t do that. Unless we can completely control what goes in and out of the West Bank, we won’t allow this to happen.” So it’s not possible now and not because it’s, you know, Bangladesh and Pakistan. It’s because of the present circumstances (inaudible). I don’t think, in the long run, Gaza cannot live on its own. Gaza is one and a half percent of British Mandatory Palestine. One and a half percent. With 2 million people in it. It cannot just be a separate entity floating in the air. It’s gonna have to be linked to the West Bank sometime in the future. We have to think about that as long term end. Yes, gentleman over there.
Audience 6: I just wanted to ask in relation to the, if I remember correctly, the process in maintaining the two-state dilemma. Do you see any people in Palestinian leadership (inaudible) actually be effective as a partner in the process in any way? And Secondly, would you see the Arab states playing a role in the process?
Asher Susser: I think, eh, the difficulty with the Palestinian leadership is also difficult for the Israelis. If you don’t have a formal negotiated agreement. At some point, you have to sign on a dotted line, that you are giving up your historical rights to X, Y, to Z. Asking the Palestinians to sign away the right of return, for example, is something of a bad nature. They won’t do it. It’s like asking the Israeli prime minister after, let’s say Israel agrees to withdraw from Hebron finally, even takes out the Jewish quarter from Hebron, let’s say. To sign a piece of paper saying that “We hereby declare that not only have we withdrawn, but that we have no historical rights in Hebron. No Israeli prime minister would do that. Does it disadvantage to the formality of the agreement I say in an unofficial, unilateral arrangement, you won’t sign anything, it’s even better. You have an understanding that this is about to happen, we tell them what we intend to do. They don’t have to sign anything. They don’t have to acquiesce in essentially conceding to Israel. We don’t have to sign on anything that we are acquiescing and conceding to them. That’s easy actually. The problem is selling this to the public, because the public will think we’re giving this away and getting nothing in return. What are we getting for it? We’re giving, we’re not getting anything. And what the Israelis have to understand is if you do have an agreement like this, you are giving away. You are conceding, for sure. But what you are getting in return is not something from the Palestinians directly but securing the wellbeing of Israel for the long run. And that is (inaudible) I think we have to grapple with. Yes, this gentleman over here.
Audience 7: Professor Susser, my name is David (inaudible). You said no one would give up the right of return because I’ve read that (inaudible) proposed humanitarian solution. It involves giving lifetime earning to heads of Palestinian families. In return, for their giving up their right of return and a new state solution which was mentioned by the former head of the Mossad, Shin Bet last week at the Henry Jackson. Although Gaza only occupies two percent of the former
Asher Susser: former head of the Mossad?
Audience 8: Shin Bet.
Asher Susser: Oh. Peri.
Audience 7: Yeah, he gave a talk here and he mentioned a new state solution which involved growing Gaza and cultivating a tourist industry. Wouldn’t that be possible? After all, if we go back to Pakistan, at the time of the partition, there were three million people killed, 20 million forcibly displaced, to create a Muslim state and yet no one seems to bat an eye about that.
Asher Susser: The fact that no one bats an eye on India and Pakistan, maybe, eh, I’m sure it’s true, but the Palestinians are not Bangladeshis or Pakistanis or the Indians and they do bat an eye on it. Moreover, Martin (inaudible)’s idea. I don’t know any Palestinian who has even given an inch of consideration.
Audience 7: Is it possible to be taken and the people are themselves favourable to the idea. It’s the leadership who are opposed.
Asher Susser: I’m glad to hear that. (inaudible) The notion that Palestinians can be bought out of their historical idea about refugees, I wish that was true. I don’t think it is. And we’ve never managed to get anywhere on the issue of right of return. The right of return doesn’t mean that there are no Palestinians who are not willing, not to return. I think that the great majority of the Palestinians today probably wouldn’t return to Israel even if they’re offered the choice. Those who live in Jordan probably wouldn’t return. Abu Mazen comes from Safed and once even said himself “I don’t even need to return to Safed.” It’s not that six or seven million Palestinians are going to rushing back to Israel from wherever they are. The question is, if there is recognition for the right of return, the Israelis don’t know what the consequences would be. Will it be 100,000, 200,000, half a million, we have no idea. And the Israelis are not willing to take the risk. (Inaudible) willing to have the Palestinians not say anything in reference to the right of return. We have had no negotiations with any Palestinians who would be willing to make the concession. They never have and I don’t think they will in the foreseeable future no matter what (inaudible). I have a fair idea of who (inaudible) is. I know his ideas. I don’t think he knows a great deal about the Arabs.
Audience 7: Ehud Barak was here and said that at the time he was negotiating with Yasser Arafat, that almost reached a deal, that Arafat said to him, “you’ve got to give us something” and he came with 50,000 and he walked away and he never heard a reply.
Asher Susser: Well, he almost made an agreement but didn’t, right? It’s always almost. And Yasser Arafat, after the negotiations, Clinton came up with the parameters. The Clinton Parameters, which was the approximate analysis by Clinton of the middle ground between the Israelis and the Palestinians after the negotiations that he supervised. The Clinton Parameters were given to the Israelis and the Clinton Parameters were given to the Palestinians. The Israelis said “We more or less accept.” And the Palestinians said there are two things here that we cannot accept. One is Jerusalem, and the other is the refugees. And Arafat wrote a letter to Clinton. This letter is available. Explaining to Clinton (inaudible) why the Palestinians cannot accept his idea of a refugee solution. Why the Palestinians cannot give up this idea of right of return. Believe me, the letter by Arafat to Clinton weighs more in my mind than whatever (inaudible). With all due respect,
Ellie Green: I’m afraid that’s all we have time for today and so we’re not able to go for any more questions but thank you very much.